When you're in a long-term relationship, having thoughts of infidelity is not at all abnormal — and it doesn't automatically make you a bad person. Being in an exclusive relationship doesn't make you immune to developing crushes or being attracted to other people, but it does change how you approach those kinds of thoughts. It can be scary to have thoughts of cheating, but it doesn't mean your relationship is doomed: there are steps you can take to reflect and refocus on your relationship with your partner.
"It is perfectly normal to have straying eyes and thoughts after you have been in a long-term relationship for some time," Shane Birkel, LMFT, tells Bustle. "Part of the reason this happens is that couples get swept up in their day to day lives and forget to make their relationship a priority. In the beginning there is a lot more excitement, novelty, and a sense that life is changing for the better. After being with a partner for a long time it is typical to feel bored, stuck, and to desire something more exciting. We take it for granted that having a good relationship takes work and in order to build the life we want, we have to make an effort."
"There is nothing wrong with thinking about cheating. Taking action on those thoughts is something that can drastically change your life though."
Although you're the only person who can say what the right decisions are when it comes to your love life, it's worth your time to examine what might be behind any thoughts of cheating you're having. Instead of making a rash decision, follow these seven steps the next time you start to seriously consider cheating on your partner.
1. Pause And Reflect
First step? Pause, take a deep breath... and do nothing. "Cheating is typically impulsive and people get wrapped up in the here and now, Kelley Kitley, LCSW, tells Bustle. "If they take a step back and recognize some motive traits of the relationship they might be less inclined to destroy it."
2. Identify The Root Cause
Before you act on an impulse to cheat, it's worthwhile to sit down and reflect about the parts of your relationship that are satisfying — and those that aren't. "Many people cheat in a relationship because of [things like] sexual dissatisfaction, conflict in the relationship, low self-esteem, substance abuse, addiction, [or] thinking the relationship is over before it actually is," Kitley says.
Whatever the reason behind your negative thoughts, figure out whether it's something you want to work on with your partner, or whether it's a deal-breaker that means you should just end the relationship and start afresh.
3. Be Honest With Yourself
Being honest with yourself is easier said than done, but it's crucial to know what you really want, and not be afraid if the answer isn't something you're proud of. "Assess whether the idea of cheating has to do with wanting to get out of a bad relationship," psychologist and author Dr. Susan Bartell tells Bustle. "If in fact, this is the case, it is better to end the relationship and then find a new one. So be honest with yourself!"
4. Write Down The Consequences
It might sound stupid to make a pro/con list for something as serious as infidelity, but seeing your thoughts on paper might help you organize your feelings. "If someone is actively thinking about cheating they need to write down the consequences of what would happen if your partner found out, and [also the] benefits," Kitley says.
5. Get Another Perspective
You might not want to send out a Twitter poll that says 'should I cheat or not', but there's no harm in telling a trusted friend or mentor that you're struggling, so they can act as a sounding board. "Talk to a friend or therapist about what you are experiencing," Birkel says. "There is nothing wrong with thinking about cheating. Taking action on those thoughts is something that can drastically change your life though. Being able to talk with someone else will help you gain perspective and clarity."
6. Think About Your Priorities
When you're in the moment, it's easy to forget that your actions will have a serious impact on your relationship's future, even if you hope your partner never finds out about your infidelity. But you *should* face that uncomfortable hypothetical scenario, because it might help you put your priorities back in perspective. "Think about what you want your life and your relationship to look like in five years from now," Birkel says. "Is this fling really worth the misery that will last for years to come?"
7. Talk To Your Partner
Although it might hurt your partner to directly say 'I'm having thoughts of cheating,' there are ways to use the situation to strengthen your relationship and work on your communication. "This could be a great opportunity for you to get your relationship back on track," Birkel says. "It isn't necessarily helpful to tell your partner all of your deepest, darkest thoughts, but it is necessary to express what you want or need in the relationship if you expect it to get any better. If you don't, then you should break up first before initiating a sexual relationship with anyone else."
Ultimately, your relationship and the choices you make are up to you, but you shouldn't feel ashamed to have thoughts of cheating every once in a while. Long-term relationships are a ton of work, and considering infidelity might just be the catalyst you need to begin addressing the problems within your relationship. And remember — even if things don't work with one partner, it's never too late to find a relationship that is happy, healthy, and fulfilling.